Civility in the Time of Democracy
By Ashenafi Nebro
Arlington, VA. – A recent incident witnessed by thousands of Ethiopians in the social media when a group of individuals verbally attacked the Ethiopian Communications Affair minister, Redwan Hussein, clearly indicates lack of civility in the public domain. The minister was vilified, insulted by several of his fellow Ethiopians while he was shopping in a department store.
We, Ethiopians, are proud of an enduring and honorable tradition of conducting ourselves with civility. Our tradition of civility that goes back many generations teaches us to honor each other whether in personal matters or public affairs. It is high time that we openly discuss how we ought to conduct ourselves when we hold different political views from our fellow Ethiopians.
Our society has gone through tremendous changes in the political, economic, and religious arena. We no longer hold homogenous views, therefore, we must open our minds to different political views and ideals. We must realize that tolerance and mutual respect is the prerequisite to coexist peaceably especially when we disagree with each other. It is possible to have different views with Mr. Hussein and still carry on a civil discourse because this is how we can build a new way of living together.
Our national politics has survived thousands of generations. But we have no guarantee that we will get the politics right – it is a work in progress at best. However we can get our conduct right because it is in our best interest. A society that adheres to the values of tolerance, mutual respect and civility has the best chance to redeem itself. We, Ethiopians, must recommit ourselves to a tradition of civility and we should hold ourselves to the highest standard of human conduct. We have plenty of reasons to avoid rudeness and grow in civility especially when our society becomes more heterogeneous in the political and religious arena. The vicious attack against a public figure while he is conducting a personal business does not reflect our values as fellow countrymen. It is clear that the attackers of Mr. Hussein might feel justified for their misconduct. But these fellow citizens have neither accomplished in advancing their cause nor getting their points across whatever that may be. They could have expressed their dissent in a better way i.e. in the spirit of civility. I believe they could be more effective in communicating their concerns to Mr. Hussein or to the Ethiopian Government if their approach was non-confrontational and non-threatening. The crucial lesson we ought to learn from this incident is that we do not need to be mean-spirited, cruel or disparaging to each other to express our convictions. It is possible to engage in civil debate while holding two opposing views. Those of us who have lived in the developed countries should have learned better ways of communicating our ideas and values when we disagree with each other.
As a society of many tribes and ethnicities, Ethiopians will always have differences in political views. But the secret of living peaceably is to have the right perspective when dealing with politically charged issues and to restrain our emotions lest it runs amok. One notices that Mr. Hussein was exposed to personal danger while representing his government. Either Mr. Hussein should not have left his hotel without a security detail or the Ethiopian Government should have a protocol in place if and when high ranking public officials should avail themselves to the public (in United States). This embarrassing confrontation could have been avoided by prearranging a security detail. The Ethiopian government must take serious measures to guarantee the personal safety of its officials as they discharge their official duties in a foreign soil.
So the question we should ask ourselves in light of this incident is, how should we conduct ourselves as our divergent political views become more obvious? First of all we need to remember that politics is ephemeral while the affairs of our nation is long lasting. As we all know the politics of yesterday is in the past and today we have a new generation politics. The current politics will inevitably become part of history in due time. In the meantime, we must learn to live with each other despite our differences. Secondly, differences in political views should not be a source of enmity. In a democracy everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Mr. Hussein has every right to have his own political views, the right to conduct his personal business without the harassment of his fellow countrymen and the right to participate in the political process. If we aspire to have democratic culture, we must aspire to listen to the views of others regardless of how we feel about their views. Democracy is unique because it is not for the faint of heart. We must learn to self-govern when our views and ideas are very different from each other. Thirdly, having different political views is a sign that we have a seed of democracy among us and we must cultivate it. Fourthly, we must realize that attacking our opponent does not bring our views any closer. Therefore, as our political landscape evolves over time, we must learn to accommodate divergent views, encourage tolerance, develop mutual respect among ourselves and celebrate our differences. It is my belief that one day in the future we can live in harmony and in a spirit of cooperation, holding diverse political views only if we are brave enough to listen to each other and learn to disagree.
We have seen the glimpse of imperfect, weak democracy in our country. One day it will be a functioning and robust one that we all will be proud to have, only if we learn to respect the views of our fellow citizens regardless of how we feel about their ideas. Believe it or not that is the only way we can live in harmony and peace.
Comment by Ash — October 20, 2014 @ 2:18 am
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